Macy’s shareholders continue to head to the exit doors after Fitch Ratings revised the department store’s outlook to negative from stable.
The stock dropped more than 2 percent to $37.82 after Fitch Ratings said the negative outlook reflects a 10 percent decline in pre-tax earnings in 2015, along with a lack of visibility in rising sales that would improve profitability. Macy’s comparable store sales trends have decelerated over 2015 — going from a 0.1 percent decline in the first quarter to a 4.7 percent decrease in the fourth quarter.
Fitch Ratings concedes that the warm weather hurt the company, but also noted that a decline in tourist traffic and a general malaise in apparel sales would probably continue. Fitch did note that Macy’s is taking the right steps to cut costs and close stores, but that earnings will be flat to down.
Fitch did highlight Macy’s real estate initiatives like the hiring of Eastdil Secured, a real estate investment bank. There is a potential for Macy’s to separate the valuable real estate portfolio from the apparel operations. In a separate note, Fitch Ratings noted that the Internal Revenue Service and the passage of the Protecting Americans from tax Hikes Act of 2015 may challenge such strategic real estate moves.
Macy’s said in November of 2015 that it was not planning a REIT. The investment company could potentially approach other parties to form partnerships or joint ventures for the various properties it owns.
Fitch expects annual free cash flow to be in the range of $500 million to $700 million between 2015 and 2017. This is significantly lower than the range of $1 billion to $1.3 billion over the past four years.
On a positive note, the pension plan is funded and Macy’s doesn’t need to make any payments for now. Longer term, Fitch believes Macy’s is well positioned to gain market share as it invests in its e-commerce business, among other initiatives.